‘Nebraska was a big part of our family’
Bill Jackman has zip lined over the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. He’s gone scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef and cage diving with sharks in South Africa. He’s navigated the Nile, run with the bulls in Pamplona, parasailed, parachuted, climbed mountains and bungee jumped off mountains. He’s done it all or, nearly, all.
Jackman has dived headfirst into life. In his 50-odd years, he’s traveled to 110 countries. That’s extensive for someone who started out in a place far less exotic. Jackman grew up in Grant, Nebraska, an ideal community with its own hospital, three grocery stores, two department stores, a bank and the best skating rink in the area. The town gave him his start, rooting him in a culture that shaped him and connecting him to a university that brought life-changing opportunities. But even though Grant was small, Jackman’s parents never thought small.
“My parents always encouraged us to go see the world,” he said. “Go see it! Why wouldn’t you go see it?”
Every summer, Jackman and his parents and brothers piled into a station wagon and set off on a road trip to someplace new. Jackman’s father was a lawyer, but he would take a month off work so he could travel with his kids and see the country.
“Those are some of the fondest memories I have,” Jackman said, “all the adventures we had.”
Jackman’s parents also valued education and worked hard to instill a lifelong appreciation for it in their sons. His mother was a teacher with a graduate degree in early childhood education. She and Jackman’s father met at the University of Nebraska while they were undergrads. His father later attended law school; Jackman’s grandmother and two aunts and an uncle attended Nebraska, too.
“Nebraska was a big part of our family,” he said.
Sports were also a big part of the family. Grant has a long history of producing great coaches and great athletes, and Jackman ended up as one of its star exports. As a student at Perkins County High School, Jackman was part of three state football championships. He also led the team to two state basketball championships and scored 214 points, a Nebraska high school boys tournament record that has only been surpassed three times since. Later, after a year at Duke University, Jackman played basketball for the Huskers from 1985 to 1987.
Playing for the team and studying at the university were foundational experiences for Jackman. He built lifelong friendships, earned a degree in finance at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business and loved his experience as a student at Nebraska, he said.
After graduation, Jackman spent three years working in Texas and then went on to play professional basketball overseas. He played in Venezuela, New Zealand, Mexico and Colombia and for teams in the U.S. (18 teams in total). That’s when his love of travel and exploration truly took hold.
While his parents encouraged him to travel and explore, Bill credits the university for giving him the courage to travel as widely as he has. “That was part of the education,” he said, “giving us the confidence to go forth and conquer, to go see what’s out there and take advantage of it.”
Bill earned an M.B.A. at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and then spent the next two decades working in financial services, rising to vice president at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and now senior vice president at UBS. For the past 19 years, he has served as a University of Nebraska Foundation trustee, devoting his time and treasure to investing in education and giving back to the university. In October, he became chair of the foundation’s board of directors.
Recently, Bill made a gift commitment to the University of Nebraska in his will, adding himself to the prestigious list of Burnett Society members. Bill said he wants to give back to a place that has shaped him, given him opportunities and experiences and introduced him to the people in his life he values. He hopes his gift can be an example to others and encourages them to follow his lead.
“We’re standing on the shoulders of a lot of other people who have given to the university,” he said. “We love this school, and it’s done amazing things for us and our families. This is a small way that we can help out, really help the next generation of people, help them do great things.”
Bill has done great things in his life. And he’s not done yet. In addition to helping the next generation at the University of Nebraska, in Grant and at the University of Chicago, where he has also pledged support, he’s working to pass on the confidence and love of learning he gained from his parents and university to his own children, who have, so far, visited more than 60 countries. He wants them to forge their own paths but also to take advantage of every opportunity and experience that the world has to offer — to dive into life, just as he has.